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City debuts its new common application for charter schools

Every spring, the city’s charter schools hold admissions lotteries and every year, parents applying to multiple charters must fill out a different application for each school. But this year, parents will have a new option: a common application.

The application, which can be sent or turned in to any of the city’s 99 charter schools, is one page long and is available in eight different languages.

It’s not a complete replacement for schools’ individual applications. This year, schools have to accept both the common application and their individualized forms, a change that Department of Education officials hope will make the process simpler and increase the number of applicants. Officials are considering making the common application mandatory in coming years.

DOE officials have been developing the application for months, and in January officials from the State University of New York and Board of Regents charter authorizers agreed to have their charter schools join city-authorized schools in using the application.

A side effect of the common application is that it could quiet criticism that the difficulty of filling out dozens of different applications is narrowing the field of applicants to those with motivated, supportive parents.

“The intention is to make the process accessible to those who might but get deterred by the six page applications or something like that,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “It’s not as if this is meant to pull people away from district schools. It’s to make the process for those already interested a much more accessible and easily understand process.”

The application asks for less information than many schools’ own lottery enrollment forms. It doesn’t ask parents for a birth certificate copy, or to check off whether their child has a learning disability or is not fluent in English — a common request that alarms some parents and charter school critics who worry that the schools will discriminate against more challenging students.

However, it does provide a space for parents to write whether their child falls into an “at-risk” category. “This information is optional but providing it may increase your student’s chances of admission to certain schools,” the application reads. Schools also can follow up with parents if they want more information.

Most charter schools’ application deadlines fall in early April, leaving the department without much time to get the common application into parents hands. Last weekend, Harlem’s education fair arrived too early for parents to be given the common application.

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